In the video, a skier is preparing for her big race at the Winter Olympics in China. She puts on her boots, her gloves, her helmet, and her googles. Then she covers her mouth in tape.
Human Rights Watch has launched a video series with Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao to put the Winter Olympics, which begin February 4, in context. One focuses on the Chinese government’s demand that global athletes shut up about human rights abuses in China and similar topics.
Beijing’s Olympics are not business as usual. They take place against a backdrop of Chinese government crimes against humanity targeting ethnic Uyghurs, repression in Hong Kong and Tibet, and risks to athletes unprecedented in the modern Olympic era. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China remains the worst jailer of journalists in the world for the third straight year.
Designed to “sportswash” the Chinese government’s abysmal human rights record, these Winter Games are a centerpiece of President Xi Jinping’s effort to burnish China’s image on the world stage.
Athletes participating in the games will be surveilled, and their rights to free speech and protest severely curtailed. On January 18, Yang Shu, deputy director general of the Beijing Organizing Committee, warned all athletes against speaking out at the Olympics: “Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit – especially against the Chinese laws and regulations – are also subject to certain punishment.”
The Chinese government’s threat is real, coming soon after one of China’s best-known athletes and Olympians, tennis player Peng Shuai, was silenced after making a sexual assault complaint against a former top Chinese government and Olympics official on social media.
The Beijing committee’s thuggish threat to thousands of Olympic athletes violates fundamental human rights. It is facilitated by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Rule 50.2, which allows for athletes to “express their views” in a limited way and so long as they vaguely “respect the applicable laws” and “Olympic values” and don’t protest on the podium.
The IOC says that the Olympics “celebrate humanity.” But even before the athletes arrive, Beijing is intent on celebrating inhumanity by denying them their basic rights.